March 25, 2014
This is to my cousin, Master Sergeant James Grega, United States Air Force. First of all I miss my cousin Jimmy very much and I am proud of him. Jimmy was going to be drafted by the Army to go to Vietnam, so he asked my Uncle Bob what he should do. My Uncle told him to join the Air Force because he won’t be on the front lines; it’s less of a risk. So Jimmy joined the Air Force and was prominently stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey for most of his career. He was an airplane and jet mechanic. Jimmy did two tours of duty in Vietnam, he also was in Alaska and England. Jimmy spent twenty years in the Air Force and retired as a Master Sergeant.
When I was growing up I always looked up to my cousin Jimmy. I thought he was cool. He wanted to be an airplane mechanic, so he went to Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics to learn to fix planes. Jimmy was the first grandchild on my dad’s side of the family. He was also an only child like me, so we were kind of close. I was in Jimmy’s wedding when I was eight years old. We went to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. I was his ring bearer. It’s the only time that I was in a wedding. It was hard on our family to have a loved one in a war zone. Once, let alone two times. We all prayed a lot when he was in Vietnam. I still have two stamps from Vietnam from a letter he sent home to my aunt and uncle. Jimmy’s mother, my Aunt Rose, gave him her rosary beads and a Catholic prayer book for protection. Once when Jimmy was home on leave at Christmas he gave me a football as a gift. I thought of him every time that I played football. That was the best football I ever had. I also remember another Christmas where I got a rod hockey game from my parents. Jimmy was the first person that played hockey with me and he beat me. He always asked when he called me, “Am I getting any better at hockey?” When I learned to drive Jimmy asked me if I had sunglasses yet? I said no. He told me to get Aviator glasses because they’re the kind of sunglasses that cool guys on base wear, the pilots. And they get all the girls. I was also about nineteen when I learned to drive, I thought this would work; it didn’t, thanks, a lot Jimmy. When I was a kid Jimmy used to build model ships from World War II. I thought this was really neat. Jimmy’s job when he was in Vietnam was to put Napalm or Agent Orange on air planes. He also put bombs on planes, and he also repaired the planes. When he was stationed in Alaska he lost the tip of his right index finger in an accident. He was working at a Sears near McGuire Air Force base in the automotive department on weekends to earn extra money. Years later Jimmy wasn’t feeling too good, so he went to the doctor. The doctor ran some tests and found that he had leukemia.
The Leukemia eventually worsened and he had to quit his job. He was put in a hospital because he was getting ill. Two Air Force officers came to his bed side and had him sign papers to release him from the Air Force just two weeks shy of his twenty years; this was done so that his wife couldn’t get a full Air Force pension from him. My aunt said that he died a very painful death. My Aunt Rose and my cousin’s wife Betty tried to get Jimmy’s name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D. C. They told my aunt Rose that this was not a combat related death. My aunt told them, “Where would we get Napalm in Pittsburgh?” My aunt and my cousin’s wife called other families that Jimmy was in Vietnam with and they told my aunt and his wife that they contracted Leukemia from handling, or breathing in Napalm or Agent Orange. My cousin was between his late forties or early fifties when he passed away. My Cousin Jimmy’s wife Betty decided to have him buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D. C. He had full military honors, taps, and an honor guard and a twenty-one gun salute. The family couldn’t go to the funeral; only my aunt Rose and my cousin’s wife Betty were able to attend. I’m writing this letter Jimmy to let you know that our family and I am very proud of you Jimmy, just because your name is not written on that wall in Washington, your name will always be written in our hearts. They have a saying in the Air Force, ”Aim High.” Your aim couldn’t be any better or higher, you ended up in heaven with God now. God Bless you Jimmy, and I love you.